The Dutch, Late Night
131 Sullivan Street, New York NY 10012 (at Prince; map); 212-677-6200; thedutchnyc.com
Service: Well-paced and friendly
Setting: Gorgeous bistro-style space (can get deafeningly loud)
Must-Haves: Smoked ricotta ravioli, "White Boy Ribs," burger
Cost: Main plates $15-27
If you enjoy your restaurants at a lively, contended hum, busy-feeling but not packed beyond reason, you might like The Dutch... around 1:30am on a Tuesday. Show up two hours before and you'll be elbowing your way in the door. Andrew Carmellini's madhouse of a beautiful new Soho restaurant, opened with Luke Ostrom and Josh Pickard, has crowds that don't quit; and it gets a second wind at 11:00pm, with a late-night-only menu that the chef calls "all the things I want to eat after midnight." That means fried chicken and ribs and burgers, along with some of our favorites from the dinner menu.
At this point, it's hard to find a chef in New York who hasn't done some version of a comfort food menu. But there's a lot that distinguishes Carmellini. Despite his fine dining pedigree (Cafe Boulud, A Voce, Locanda Verde), he's always had his share of fun; "I was serving fried chicken off the menu at Cafe Boulud," he told us, "way before every restaurant in town was frying chicken." The man's crossed the country for due diligence; I'll never forget sending an email last year that he replied to with a blurry iPhone photo of a pit smoker and the note Greetings from the pits of Central TX!! He may have made his name with French and Italian cuisine, but his love for these all-American sorts of foods is apparent—both in how he talks about them, and in what appears on the plate. Which, in a word, is excellent.
While it can take awhile to sit down—and reservations aren't accepted after 11:00pm—once you've ordered the food arrives fast and furious; it's late-night food, after all. The point is to eat, not to linger. Cornbread comes first, warm and delicate with an incredibly soft crumb; it's a much more satisfying first bite than something white and crusty would be. It gets even better with salty and totally softened butter.
"We've got a smoker in the basement," Carmellini told us proudly; "we're smoking everything." That includes the lamb links ($15) we loved, with a yogurt sauce, red quinoa, and lightly pickled cucumbers, as well as the egg on a beet salad ($13). The smoky intensity of the egg permeates the dish, but in a good way; it's paired with fork-tender beets, celery shavings, and a dill-laced yogurt-sour cream dressing ("A nod to my Polish roots") we loved.
"Asian White Boy Ribs" ($7/order) may sound like an Eddie Huang invention, but it's all Carmellini. "There's no geography attached to these ribs," he says, by way of explanation; "They're not, you know, a Hunanese-style rib. They're flavors I love that are, broadly speaking, Asian." That means hoisin and fermented black beans but ketchup as well, coming together on ribs so meltingly tender the meat and fat meld together in each unbelievably moist, meaty mouthful; they sport a gorgeous crust ("bark," in rib-speak), too. "We knew we wouldn't be doing barbecue, since don't have a live fire smoker; but we really wanted to do a juicy rib." They've succeeded brilliantly.
The Smoked Ricotta Ravioli ($18) are one of the less late-night oriented dishes on the menu ("Hey, sometimes you don't want a fried short rib sandwich for dinner...") but they're impossible to get out of your head once you've them. It's the smoky ricotta itself (from Salvatore Bklyn) that enlivens them, that fascinating flavor supported by delicate pasta and a thin, straightforwardly delicious tomato sauce. At our table, a fork battle was fought over the last half-piece.
We wouldn't return to The Dutch without ordering those ravioli, and the same goes for the Burger ($15). While Carmellini deliberately avoids the sort of language with which burgers are talked about these days ("I'm so over this 'burger blend business'; that's why on the menu it just says burger. This overfetishization is ridiculous"), the meat he's using is fantastic; it's a LaFrieda blend but they're incorporating steak trimmings of the dry-aged meat from the dinner menu. The patty's got a profound and very welcome funk, and is incredibly juicy; with a great crust; it's paired simply and well with totally melted Cheddar and served on an Orwasher bun. All the interest is in the meat, not the toppings, which we love. Fries are simple, slim and salty; the super-crisp guys are the ones you want to pick out.
Unfortunately, we didn't love the Sloppy Duck ($16) as much; more "sloppy" than "duck," it's got a great combination of flavors —the duck cooked with lemongrass and ginger, then paired with crushed peanuts and a sauce of sriracha, mustard seed, and fish sauce—but in all that, the duck was lost completely; we could've mistaken it for something else entirely. Bite for bite it's a pretty good sandwich, but we want a little more, well, duck taste out of our duck.
It's the Fried Chicken ($19) that's probably earned the most attention on The Dutch late-night menu, but it's hardly Carmellini's first time making it. "Even during the Cafe Boulud days I'd do it as a special," he remembers. "People like Diane Sawyer and Bill Goldman would come and get it to go." Fried chicken is one of those things that inspires bitter argument and fierce partisanship, but Carmellini says his philosophy is simple: "My ideal fried chicken has the juiciest meat possible. A crisp crust is great, but if I had to choose a great crust or juicy meat, it'd always come down to the meat." Still, he's adapted his technique ("General consensus wants the crispy skin. I'm trying to achieve the balance of both"), and what he's come up with is a deep-fried, buttermilk-brined bird that's so juicy I'd venture to say it lives up to his standards, and crunchy enough to satisfy any crust addict.
It's enormously satisfying, though we found the white meat a little lacking in chicken flavor, a little seasoning-dominated; the dark meat, however, with a more pronounced chicken flavor, didn't have the same problem. But he's got the technical part nailed; I haven't had a piece of chicken simultaneously so moist and so crisp-skinned in New York. Where some might quibble is the price—the three pieces of chicken do seem a bit meager—but served with cloud-light, absolutely irresistible honey butter-soaked biscuits and three sides (our favorite was the velvety mashed potatoes), it's a sizable amount of food. Though we'd recommend you save room for the pies, from pastry chef Kierin Baldwin. She's a longtime member of the Carmellini team, going from Boulud to A Voce to Locanda Verde, where she worked under the incomparable Karen DeMasco. Given that she trained with perhaps our favorite pastry chef in New York, it's not surprising, but certainly thrilling, that Baldwin makes a stupendous flaky crust; we loved the rhubarb, but we'll be back to try an awful lot more.
Whether for a cocktail and a slice of pie, a night's-end belly filler, or a longer, more sedate meal, we'd go back in a second. It's hard to make food that's both intelligent and gut-level appealing, but Carmellini and team are doing just that. We're hardly the only ones enamored with The Dutch, as the relentless crowds can attest. But for that burger or those ravioli, we're willing to leap right in.